You’ve probably heard passing comments on the topic of mindfulness, but… what exactly is it? And what isn’t it? Author and teacher of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, Jon Kabat-Zinn, describes mindfulness as, “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” It’s a special, intentional, and heightened awareness. You can have an intellectual awareness that you are feeling anxious, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are mindfully experiencing what it’s like to feel anxious. Awareness and mindfulness are not synonymous.
If you are mindfully aware that you are feeling anxious, you are tuning into your body, noticing how and where you can feel it. You are noticing your thoughts, your behaviors, and possible triggers of this current experience without judging yourself or the experience. With mindfulness, there is no “good” or “bad” evaluation of an experience. It simply is.
The act of intentionally acknowledging your experience, whatever it is, is intensely powerful. Instead of feeling controlled by a circumstance or feeling so overwhelmed by it that you distract yourself, mindfulness can teach you to move through it with trust and confidence. You are gaining insight into yourself and how you move through the world as you notice the narrative you have created about why things are the way they are. You get to decide what works for you and what doesn’t.
Sometimes, people confuse the idea of being mindfully aware and accepting a current moment with resignation. “So, if I am ‘being mindful’ as I listen to the news, I should just ‘accept’ that this is how things are, sit back, and let it happen?” Nope. Mindfulness and inaction aren’t synonymous either. In fact, being mindful of your experience and moving toward acceptance can help you to reach more grounded decisions and take calmer, more effective necessary action. It can give you the space to respond in a less reactive, more thoughtful way. You’re neither impulsive nor frozen; you are responsive.
A good start to enhancing your mindfulness is to try it when you are eating. Set aside a reasonable time for you to try this during a snack or mealtime. Notice how you feel as you prepare to eat. What do you notice about the way your body feels? What do you notice about your thoughts? Senses? Notice how you take the initial bite. Is it fast and deliberate? Slow and deliberate? What do you notice about the taste and texture? And do you go in for another bite before you’ve finished the first? Notice all of these things without judging. Continue bite for bite until you have finished. What was this experience like?
One of the great things about mindfulness is how accessible it is. You need not be a member of any particular religion. You need no guru or leader (although guided mediation is available for those who want it). It is simply you, your experience, and some intentional, nonjudgmental noticing. Anyone can do it- young, old, Christian, Buddhist, Atheist, on your own, with a guide, any time of day, for however long, any number of times per day. It is limitless.
Love and Be Loved,